It has been quite a week! I’m grateful that Thanksgiving is around the corner so I can focus on family and friends and give thanks. (And I’m hoping for more post of that sort on social media.)

Whatever your state of mind with the election behind us and holidays fast approaching, did you know that expressing gratitude or giving thanks can lift your spirits? According to Harvard’s Healthbeat, “gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness.”

thankful_1This made me think: what can all Americans be thankful for after the election? First, we have the right to vote for our country’s leaders. We’re also free to express our opinion for or against those leaders and anything else without fear of persecution. And we can go one step further and communicate directly with them, sharing what we think needs to be done.

Sarah Hale is a great example. Did you know that if it wasn’t for her perseverance, we might not have Thanksgiving?

You and your kids can read all about it in Thank You, Sarah: The Woman Who Saved Thanksgiving by Laurie Halse Anderson, illustrate by Matt Faulkner.


We’re Thankful for Sarah Hale

Known as the “Mother of Thanksgiving,” Sarah was quite a woman. Widowed with five young children in the 1800s, she had to find a way to make a living.

So she wrote.


She published books of poems. Her second, Poems for Our Children, included “Mary Had a Little Lamb.”

Eventually, she became an editor of Godey’s Lady Book, one of the most widely read magazines of the 19th century. From that position, she became a gentle but persistent advocate of causes that would better family life, like improving women’s status and getting better education for girls.

Among her causes was a national day of Thanksgiving. She wrote letters to a number of presidents as well as many editorials on the subject. Here is a quote from one that I think speaks to the current state of our nation. When Sarah wrote this, we were a divided nation right before the Civil War.

“Everything that contributes to bind us in one vast empire together, to quicken the sympathy that makes us feel from the icy North to the sunny South that we are one family, each a member of a great and free Nation, not merely the unit of a remote locality, is worthy of being cherished. We have sought to reawaken and increase this sympathy, believing that the fine filaments of the affections are stronger than laws to keep the Union of our States sacred in the hearts of our people… We believe our Thanksgiving Day, if fixed and perpetuated, will be a great and sanctifying promoter of this national spirit.” (1860)

Spoiler alert… In 1863, after a letter from Sarah, President Lincoln proclaimed Thanksgiving a national holiday.

This history lesson is a great reminder of the power we have in a democratic society. And much more than in Sarah Hale’s day. You no longer need to be an editor to share your opinion and advocate for what you feel is right.

For more on Sarah Hal, check out biographies from Pilgrim Hall Museum, Wikipedia, and Biography.


More Thanksgiving Books

Thank You, Sarah is one of many Thanksgiving books you can read with your kids. In keeping with the theme of thankfulness and gratitude, we’ve been reading books that emphasized those to get in the spirit of the holiday.

Eileen Spinelli’s book reminds us to give thanks for the little things that are really big things we take for granted—the waitress is thankful for comfortable shoes; the local reporter, for interesting news; and the gardener, for every green sprout. After reading this, the boys and I realized that we say our thanks for the big things like family, friends, our home, and school. But often we forget some of the small things. Today, the boys are thankful for the fallen leaves that make great piles to jump in. (Dad is not quite so thankful for those.)

Giving Thanks: A Native American Good Morning Message
This book is an adaptation of an ancient Iroquois Thanksgiving message. In it, the author Chief Jake Swamp, a chief of the Mohawk nation, puts a traditional “good morning message” of gratitude into language that is both simple enough to be understood by children yet culturally rich. We love the reminder that we should be thankful, daily, for the gifts of the natural world and the many blessings we have.


Bears Says Thanks
Karma Wilson and Jane Chapman’s Bear wants to have his friends over, but his cupboard is bear (pun intended). Then his friends start showing up, each with a treat. He says thanks to each one, but feels bad he has nothing to share. They say it is ok because they enjoy his stories.

While the boys love this beautifully illustrated book and chime in for Bear’s “Thanks” line, I wonder if this children’s book speaks even more to me. As a working mom, I depend on my family and friends to help with my kids. I’m so thankful, but often feel guilt for not reciprocating equally. This book reminds me that friends (and family) are there and want to help. And at some point, I’ll repay them or pay it forward.

Piggy and Elephant’s The Thank You Book
Expressing gratitude to everyone in your life is no small feat, but Piggie takes on the challenge in this amusing and readable book from our favorite Mo Willems series. With a little help from Gerald, Piggie remembers everybody from the series as they make a guest appearance, even the reader, much to the pleasure of our little readers!


The Berenstain Bears and the Prize Pumpkin
It is easy to forget Thanksgiving between all the getting—first Halloween candy and then holiday presents. Papa Bear and the cubs are no different. And when a pumpkin contest is added to the mix, the meaning of Thanksgiving is totally forgotten. But Mama Bears reminds them: “…Thanksgiving isn’t about contests and prizes. It’s about giving thanks. And it seems to me that we have a lot to be thankful for.”

Ten Thank-You Letters
If you’re overflowing with gratitude, you and your children might try writing some thank you notes with inspiration from Daniel Kirk’s Rabbit and Pig. Your child may write one long letter like Pig or many short ones like Rabbit. But, either way, it will bring happiness to someone and remind your little one to be grateful to others.


Other Ideas for Giving Thanks

After reading all these books, I’m overflowing with ideas to get in a thankful state of mind. Try some of these ideas to get in the spirit of Thanksgiving.

  • thankful_3Make a simple thankful turkey. Trace your kids’ hands on paper (we used a brown paper bag) and cut them out. Now, your kids can decorate each as a turkey. Leave room on each finger to have them write or have you scribe what they’re thankful for. Give thanks for those five people/things every day.
  • Write thank you notes. After reading Ten Thank-You Letters, ask your children to think about who they’re very thankful for and why. Then help them write/draw a note of appreciation. Certainly, it could be to a family member or friend, but you can also reach out to the community by writing notes to teachers or public servants. This is a great activity for adults, too, particularly after the election. Write a note of thanks for a politician’s service, what s/he is doing well, and/or what you hope to see.
  • Talk about how there are many sides to every issue. In Thank You, Sarah, many presidents said no to a national day of Thanksgiving. Ask your kids why the presidents might have disagreed? Why did Sarah want Thanksgiving? Talk about other conflicts and what might be the different points of view. Discuss with your kids why it is important to understand all sides of an issue and respect other people’s opinions.

We’d love to hear from you! How do you and your kids show their thanks?